MJ Hibbett and the Validators - Still Valid
(Artists Against Success AAS075, release date July 4th 2016)
Seven years on since its release, "Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez" is still a quality album, and a lot's happened since then - various Edinburgh Festival shows by MJ Hibbett (and Steve) including shows about dinasours invading Peterborough, growing up with computers in the 1980s and imaginary super heroes, complete with all new songs written for each (and indeed, the band having a whole CD worth of Dinasour Planet soundtrack to boot.) So it's been a fair while for the new album "Still Valid" to be recorded to say the least, so interesting to see if that time has been well spent.
For me, the band are perhaps at their best with catchy indie pop goodness, lots of melodies and some intelligent yet witty word play along the way - a lot of my favourite songs are just that (such as "Hey Hey 16K", "Do The Indie Kid" and "It Only Works Because You're Here".) It's worth perhaps noting that this album is also making those songs as a whole shorter and sparkier, with one song only going over four minutes and almost all the rest around three minutes or less. In a way that does work well, and aids the flow somewhat. In fact despite the sleeve mentioning that there's only ten songs, there is in fact eleven, and I'll come to that a little later on.
So opening the fold out sleeve and the collage picture postcard effect of the band in various times having their pictures taken, it's on with the CD. We start with "20 Things To Do Before You're 30" which in effect has a little pop at all those articles you see about all the things that you need to do in your life, and what the reality actually is (especially later on, when you'll end up according to the later verses collecting allen keys and eating shortbread.) Tom McClure's violin is fairly high up in the mix which compliments the vocals of Emma Pattison and MJ Hibbett particularly well here, giving it a smidge of edge. "Can We Be Friends?" tells the tale of how when you are older that actually connecting with people and making new friends can sometimes be more difficult than you think, and how it'd be a lot easier if you were a teenager. It's really nice during the chorus to have Emma singing various levels of backing at once, and giving the chorus some oomph at the same time, whilst asking the song's title? Rather a nice idea that, and it works too.
"That Guy" has the best single line of the whole album which mentions masturbating in a skip (it makes sense, honest!) and how you don't want to be "that guy" who appears to be smug about comics or the whole saga of Indian food and being a sod about it. Rather amusingly the final line says "but I am.." and almost seems to indicate that we'll end up being "that guy" one day, comparing One Direction to Chaucer with some nice violin solos before each verse. "In The North Stand" is my favouite of the album, it resonates a lot. It's the tale of how MJ's grandad used to take him to the football at Peterborough and how those memories are still there when he goes now. My grandad used to take me to Maine Road to watch Manchester City as a kid (and in the North Stand too!), so I get it. And there's a rather glorious trumpet solo section from Frankie Machine in the middle, to make it sound even more Northern and have a LS Lowry painting in the background as you head for the North Stand.
"Burn It Down And Start Again" is perhaps the weakest song on the album in comparison. It means well and is a well levelled song aimed at politicians, then the press, and finally how we all end up writing protest songs because of the above. The false endings will catch people out at gigs, but unlike the brilliant "The Fight For History" which really had a message delivered with passion that became a true prophecy due to the words, this just falls short. Thankfully, we're back on track straight away with "(You Make Me Feel) Soft Rock" which is utterly joyous indie pop! It's a love song, but more about how you remain in love and how over time the person you're with makes you want to punch the air with happiness and "look like a wazzock, but I don't care" with suitable nods to MJ's former home of Leytonstone and sharing a half bottle of wine and eating Pringles without a care in the world. It's also punchy in the chorus due to the drums from Tim Pattison and really does give you that urge to punch the air along to the words.
"Hills and Hollows" reminds me of how some bands would occasionally do the lyrics as more spoken word poetry with the music forming the backing for it. The song refers to how if you come from a relatively flat place you want to head to somewhere flat, and eventually not have the hills and hollows of other places. "The 1980s How It Was" first appeared in the "Hey Hey 16K" musical, but works well here too, and tells of how the media and politicians want you to remember the 1980s in a different way to how it actually was if you lived through it, with the likes of Duran Duran, the Rubik's Cube, shoulder pads, and the scariness of being bored and possibly dying in a nuclear war (a la the film "Threads"). It's quite an insight into how it really was, and not how those who claim nostalgia on the likes of Twitter and Buzzfeed also want you to think it was. MJ and Emma vocally compliment each other rather well here too.
"I Want To Find Out How It Ends" was a single a while back and originally written for a podcast about time travel, and the challenge was to write something without said podcast title anywhere. It focuses on time travel with the fact that if you could travel, you'd want to know how it all ends first so you would be able to at least have an idea of how you'd get there and skip to all the best bits along the way. It's immensely catchy and some gorgeous guitar riffs that underpin the intro to each verse as well, and good fun! "We Did It Anyway" was originally for the finale of MJ's "Moon Horse" musical comedy, and is a happy sunny song to end the ten main tracks - and details of how the likes of winning awards, earning shed loads of cash etc doesn't really matter, it's enjoying yourself and enjoying life when you do what you love doing, and that's rather uplifting. There's a key line of "I don't need to have a lot of medals and cash when I've got friends like you" sung with gusto and real passion, and those words ring so true. After all, being happy doesn't make you stupid, does it?
So there's an eleventh track then, and it's "Get Over It", which featured in the "Total Hero Team" musical, and is how you need to get over things that you may not have liked, and actually find that getting over that shows you have lots more things to like and do, with suitable nods to Euro 96 and actually how that got him over the snobbery towards football, and other experiences with the likes of curry, The Smiths and a dishwasher. It's witty, quick and pretty funny, so nice to have a full band version here.
Overall it's a joyous piece of indie pop, and the short sharp punchy approach to most of the tracks works pretty well, giving enough space and flow to Frankie Machine's guitars and Tim Pattison's drums too along the way giving suitable backing the violins and vocals. If I was being picky I'd have kept it at ten tracks and dropped "Burn It Down And Start Again", however one man's poison may well be someone else's meat. What is apparent though is that the wit of the lyrics is there in abundance, and keeping the bursts shorter really gives an immediacy to listen to, and then allowing the songs to grow on you over time. It may never win an award, but they'll do what that do anyway. For that alone we should be thankful and, if you've never heard an album by the band before, this would be a good place to start to get you hooked.
Warren's rating: 90%